VOICES OF HOPE
After his sister committed suicide, John Grover felt the need to share his personal struggles in an effort to be more open with his family and others. He and his wife were childhood friends and were married in 1982. They are the parents of 10 children and 4 grandchildren. He works as a Registered Nurse, an author, and served on the Idaho Council for Developmental Disabilities. John served a mission for the Church in Lima, Peru and was raised on a cattle ranch as the youngest of 11 children.
Full Interview (46 Minutes)
Highlights Interview (10 Minutes)
THE MAN WITHIN
I have come to understand that I am the man within. The parts and pieces of me, that make me who I am as a composite, are not things I can separate from my core. It doesn’t matter how many times I moved, or started over, I found me; the man with the desire to be with another man, to feel loved, and to understand the bounds of male intimacy and the role in human relationships.
My mind, my values, my hopes, my dreams, and my goals, didn’t allow for male bonding. Any type of male intimacy was totally unacceptable. I was someone who wanted more than anything to have a family and to be a dad, a husband, and a worthy priesthood holder. I wanted to be a man of God; to be able to call down the powers of heaven and have them intercede in my behalf. I needed a life of miracles to be delivered from the world of criticism that enveloped me.
I was the youngest of 11 children. We were raised on a ranch where reality stared us in the face at all times, and where the wolf at the door wasn’t a story but an imminent expectation that took many forms. It was a rough way of life, with no room for a powder puff or a green schoolboy who was wet behind the ears with emotional sensitivity as my dad might say. I had five brothers and five sisters, all who worked from sun up to sun down and who were not given to relaxation but to a sense of urgency and hard work. Doing otherwise it meant having to deal with “Dad,” something that I learned to avoid as much as possible. Dad wasn’t the least bit sensitive and had no problems skinning you alive with his words. If that didn’t get a quick enough response to his liking he had no problem with “the laying on of hands” and I don’t mean for any blessing! My interactions with him led me to believe I was just another “damn dummy kids that didn’t have sense enough to pour piss out of his own boots.” If I heard it once I heard it a hundred times, etched in my mind over and over again. To be around him in his fits I would fear and tremble as a frightened little lamb. I fumbled everything; even if it was something that I could do well my state of anxiety prohibited any level of confidence. My work seemed to always fall too short of the expectation. Given my softer nature, I believe my presence would grate on my father as a reminder of the cowboy that I would never be in his eyes. I saw myself as a disappointment and failure despite the love that I felt for the ranching way of life. The image of the American west, of the strong, fit cowboy, who was a man of strength and character was who I longed to be, and yet my own talents were so diverse that it seemed I was at complete odds with the world around me.
Although I had been baptized a member of the church, as were my parents and siblings; not all were in fully active. Going to church usually meant that I needed to find a ride with some one else in order to go because Dad resisted us, especially mom from going. Our home was a ground of agitation. We had to carefully maintain a frail balance before dad’s rage exploded in a rant of hostility and violence. Any knowledge by my father of my feelings being anything other than the traditional man would surely be sudden death to me. I had to “man up” as my nature seem to be a complete antithesis to his.
I buried my feelings deep in my heart and felt great shame and self hate for never measuring up to be “the man” that he was, the way that my brothers were, or what I understood a man to be. My desire for affection, for hugs and warmth from another man was out of the question. Still, despite this disapproval, I would attempt a hug from my brothers when given the chance, regardless that it meant chastisement and rebuke. I wasn’t looking for anything sexual, just approbation, recognition, and a sign of love from the same gender. The approvals rarely came.
School was a place of insecurity as well since I lived far from town I was unable to participate in sports. I felt unwanted or accepted by classmates which contributed to my isolation being both real and imagined. Abuse at home and the fragmented relationships there drove me to look outside to find whatever form of a friend I could. I actively sought a friend or neighbor where I might find comfort. It set the stage of me becoming prey to anyone as I sought the companionship of another male. I was vulnerable and looked for affection from complete strangers, just a hug or a pat on the back was a validation to me of worth. It became my nature. I questioned myself and my purpose in our family and felt a sense of insecurity with them.
Names from school such as “sissy,” “wimp,” “pansy,” “queer” or “fag” all infiltrated my already discouraged soul with anguish and pain. It seemed that I had been branded like the cattle on the ranch with no chance at redemption or hope of friendship. I was isolated by where I lived by the people who I knew and by what I felt. I didn’t feel that I was acceptable except by my mother because of her unyielding love. The questions and doubts that I had formed about my identity multiplied during adolescence, and junior high years. I moved frequently between our summer ranch and our winter home. During my high school year I moved every year. I went to four different high schools and moved every summer in between. It established a pattern of escape and adventure. For years to follow I moved every few months and re-established friendships, addresses and career paths; by the time I was 21 I had lived in seven different states and been to seven different countries. It became a coping mechanism of busyness through adventure.
I was confused about establishing relationships and defining expectations. What was okay? What wasn’t? Who was I to believe or trust? One relative offered free advice about being a man but it wasn’t the kind of information that lead to a spiritual, virtuous, life. I was afraid to seek counsel or to confide in anyone of my self-doubts. Because I did not have a close friend to bring into my confidence, my loneliness grew beyond description. I had been ridiculed to scorn by bullies, mocked and beaten down. Still, I had to safe face at some level even if by appearance only. No matter what changes I developed on the outside, the man within was a brittle shell of self-doubt and despicability because of the love and acceptance that I sought from another man. The chasm deepened throughout the years. My emptiness and loneliness intensified.
At 21 I married my dear friend. I told her that I loved her and that she was my friend and she had always been someone who I could talk to and have fun with. In the church we were counseled to marry your friend. I thought that we could always work through our life and marriage together because we had been friends first. I had many questions and concerns about my own self-concept but I felt that God would help me through. Fearfully and obediently I chose to follow that counsel and I asked for her hand in marriage. She accepted. Thus began a life with me. Since then I have moved over 60 times. Sometimes I moved with her and our family and sometimes without. Together we built a life of chance. I had nothing to offer by way of security, or financial stability but we took life one step at a time. I went back to college. Eventually my career choice as a travel nurse me to travel even more often. We revisited states and saw new ones. Whatever the motivating factors were at the time of each move, they lent fodder to a subconscious belief that I was different, or “queer” in some way. I still hungered to have a normal healthy relationship with a male friend. However I couldn’t distinguish what normal was or how the male attraction played into it. My relationship with my wife was of fire and ice. We determined to stick together and be a family but something left me raw on the inside. We could get along, have fun and fuss as much as any other couple but I was still disturbed by doubts. Moving so often kept me from forming trustful, close relationships. It prevented me from facing the man within that could deal with the same sex attraction.
It wouldn’t be until I was 40 years old that I found the burden so intolerable that I could go no further. I felt inconsolable, suicidal, and desperate. I had made commitments to God, my wife, and my children. I could not disappoint them; I could not give up on them as a father, yet I could not go on pretending all was well. There was something more. Something that nagged at me and taunted at my self -confidence. I was in crisis.
Until then I had managed to sweep my feelings aside, deny them, and hide myself from any friendship or relationship that could possibly lead to exposure of my feelings of SSA. I avoided any situation that might allow my acting out on them. There had been occasional, rare, and unexpected encounters during high school and college years. There were fleeting moments where a look or a chance friendship would spark hope of a bromance, or brotherhood but it conflicted with my soul so much that I could not allow it to develop. I couldn’t accept my feelings and I would quickly sabotage any association that might allow myself to face it. With the fears and feelings associated with same sex attraction I just could not “go there.” Fear that I might never return to get the life that I wanted as a husband and father consumed me. I was afraid I would disappoint God, I was afraid to be disowned by my family or that I might be discovered and become a disgrace to them. I was afraid that by loving a man I would lose the ability to love my wife. I was so stressed to have a personal friendship with another man for just the thought of it made me nervous.
When computers began to be commonplace, online chats created anonymity. Rapture and a thrill replaced my fear and seemed to abate the need I had to confront my feelings but it never, ever changed them. I ventured into chat rooms and made friends with people I never before had. I could talk to anyone about anything without embarrassment. It was such a relief. I felt safe behind the plastic screen of the computer. Conversations were easy and easily established. I discovered with anonymity I could let my guard down. It fed my heart and soul with satisfaction. Still, I recognized these desires increased the desire to connect with other men.
Whatever I felt, I determined it better not to explore it or connect with them. I had discovered with my sensitivity a compelling drive for male affection that could never be satisfied. No friendship would last like that. I was crazy to think that I could have a relationship like the one describing the love of Jonathan and David. Yet, I longed for that intimacy that is described in the Holy Bible, 1 Samuel, Chapter 18. It seemed illogical and impossible to have a marriage, a family, and still have the male friendship that I desired. Yet, no matter how crazy it was, it never stopped me from dreaming of it. I longed for the same camaraderie that I perceived with other men had—from the football locker room to the faithful support and dedication of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. Such a bond and togetherness; in life and death they were not separated. Why! Why could I not have a friend or a brother like that? Why the rejection? I hated my life! The only hope I felt was as a father, the undeniable love of a child. How pure, how unconditional! The only love I was worthy of was that of one who never had learned to judge, to hate, or mock. This was the manifestation of Christ’s love in my life, my reward for trying to live the traditional Christian life. This was my lifeline. It seemed to be enough, at least until the year I turned 40. Then I could go no further.
At this time in my life my wife and I were expecting our eighth child, my father was dying of liver disease, and our daughter had acquired what would later prove to be a terminal illness. I was also about eight months into a new business through self-employment. I had gambled all that we had at the time on being able to survive as an entrepreneur. Besides the workload it entailed, the pressures of home and family and my activity and callings in the church, I agonized over the loss that I felt as a man. Because of the lack of brotherhood in my life, I didn’t feel validated as a man. Not feeling accepted by my father who had limited time to live nagged at me. Feelings of failure on the ranch, failed attempts at lasting friendships, and raw memories of past male encounters left me feeling despondent and hopeless. I was unable to find a friend, be a friend, or feel accepted of the male gender in general. I had many acquaintances at church, but for the most part they were Sunday friendships with very little depth. Many frequent moves made it next to impossible to establish anything real or lasting. Even if there had been any desire by any of the brethren I came in contact with to do so. I stayed active in the church but never felt that I fit in among the brethren. By all appearances I had a good life but on the inside I felt as empty as a tomb.
Back in grade school I had been bullied into some sexual activity that lasted about a year. The physical closeness of that relationship was the closest thing to male approval I had experienced. My counterpart would reward me by taking me to the store and buying me toys or candy. For a long time I wondered if this was what love was about. It laid the ground work for much confusion in later years, especially in my time of crisis. Who was I on the inside? Was my current life a show of a “wannabe,” or was it a reflection of who I really was. I felt so conflicted between the life I knew and the life I longed for.
Growing up I had close female friends that talked about the church, that encouraged me to go and even helped arrange rides to church. My wife had been part of that group. I enjoyed being part of the church and felt that God had a presence in my life. I had prayed often throughout my life and kept it as a practice. It was all that seemed to matter anymore. Years of arguments with my wife, facing my fathers’ death, self hate, and self denial, resulted in unresolved grief that drove me to utter hopelessness.
A few years earlier I had established a short friendship with an LDS fellow out of Rexburg, Idaho, whom I met at a health club. He shared with me his struggles of same sex attraction and told me of other resources that had helped him. He introduced me to the term “gamofite.” This is a term contrived from the usage of tribe identification in the Book of Mormon between the Lamanites and Nephites and is used to identify the group of gay Mormon fathers coming about in the church. I was very hesitant to align myself in any way publicly with anything or any image that was same sex related with a sexual connotation. I had been the subject of much ridicule growing up and didn’t desire it again. Nonetheless, I felt my life held no purpose and was beyond the point of caring. I prayed and fasted earnestly as to what to do. I plead with God that I might not lose my soul in quest of answers for I feared that I might be totally attracted to men and desire an alternate lifestyle. According to society and the persecution that I had already endured, being gay was a heinous sin, unnatural and forbidden. It conflicted with my ability to feel Gods love, I knew of the atonement of Jesus Christ, but did not want to feel I failed to receive of it. I felt so miserable in marriage at times but thoughts as to give up my family and lose myself in a world I knew little of felt overwhelming. I felt akin to that other world and unable to make peace in the world I knew. I determined it was better to go on living and face my feelings rather than to end my life. I looked online for information on gamofite. I found that there was a conference in Jerome, Idaho, and decided that I would go. I told my wife that I was burned out from everything going on and was going to take off for 3-4 days for time alone. I left.
At the conference I met many Latter-day Saint men, struggling with the same sex addictions, all at different levels in the experience. Some men were single, some married, some divorced, others partnered with other men. There were Christians from many denominations and the conference was held in a Catholic Monastery. For the first time I felt comfortable in the environment I was in enough to discuss my feelings and seek advice and counsel. Talks were given from people from all different backgrounds including many professionals. More important than all the information the activities and presentations offered, was the fact that I was able to express my feelings. I felt a level of acceptance for who I was, where ever I was in my journey and understood that God loved me, that I was His child, and that He would never forsake me no matter how hurt or confused I felt. My voice found the listening ears of two men that were partnered; one a divorced father of three and the other a single man who never married. They convinced me to give them my phone number and with great reluctance I gave it. When I arrived home and went to talk to my wife of my experience, she told me “I know, your friends have already called. They were afraid you might drive off into the river or into the side of a cliff. They wanted me to know where to look for you in case you never came home.” (Such was the transparency of my mental state as I had not disclosed any suicidal ideation to them). I was stunned. My new friends had betrayed my trust. I had no protection and I was exposed and vulnerable, but now I was not alone. This unwelcomed disclosure opened the gate to my wife’s divulgence of years of her suspicion of my attractions. She knew that her dearest trait to me was that of a true friend and she did not disappoint me in my time of greatest need. I even learned that she had sometime earlier read one of the books written by Carol Lynn Pearson of her life married to a gay man.
This new communication fostered a new level of support during the coming years. My friends from the conference became closer friends and more supportive of me and my family in an effort to sustain my need for male companionship. For the first time I felt there were men who could love me despite my deepest secret struggle. Their friendship became an essential part of my coping over the next few years. Our daughter’s illness escalated, it became necessary to travel to the Children’s Hospital frequently for her care. The hospital was located where my friends lived. We would often spend the night in their home as it was a great distance for us to travel for her care. They visited our home and they attended her funeral. They have been a strength and testimony to me of brotherly love, freedom of choice, and God’s love for all his children. They have met my sister and my mother and have always been kind. It was strange to me how I had found such a friendship but it eased my burden immensely. I knew the life they had together was based on choice, and while my choices remained very different the man within didn’t change. I still felt that longing for male companionship. I felt they shared some evidence of love with me that was brotherly even if they had chosen to live a gay lifestyle.
Residue from early experiences in life left me with doubts about my own sexuality but I couldn’t ever see myself being gay enough to leave my family and embrace the gay lifestyle. I had a testimony of God and I felt that it was wrong for men to have sex with men, but I still believed in the intimacy of David and Jonathan. My missionary life in Peru had taught me that an embrace between men could be culturally and socially acceptable. The abrazo, (hug), I felt there was something I longed to feel every day of my life and I yearned for such a companion. My life was not complete with out it. I desired such affection so deeply that I sought such comfort from complete strangers. I remember on one occasion, years after my marriage I was so lonely, and empty I stopped at a public rest area just to watch the other people in the cars come and go and hope to make a friend. Travelers parked along the curb, resting from long days of travel. I yearned to speak to a man and make a friend. I walked up and down the parking lot nervously wanting to say hi and strike up a conversation but I said nothing. After a time I unnerved a fellow sufficiently as for him to pull out a pistol and lay it on his lap to my view. I shook my head in shame for my unwary behavior. I returned to my car and sobbed. Then I realized despite my loneliness I had to use some common sense. I was crushed by the way that I felt and I resolved to carry it alone. Was I wrong to just want that brotherhood, that friendship? It seemed everyone I knew had a golf buddy, a fishing buddy or hunting buddy, and I couldn’t even manage a quorum buddy from church. Ironically, I had dedicated my whole life to going to church, serving in the church, and trying to live a Christ-centered life. Yet I felt alone as a man. I had learned early in life that if I was to feel the love of a father, it must be the love of a Heavenly Father and I depended heavily on that reassurance and struggled to deny anything that would compromise me from feeling that love.
I had studied the Holy Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Book of the Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price and had read them all cover-to-cover before graduating high school. I dedicated myself to some study of them each day. I undertook to write a journal, and I served as missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Peru. I had served as a stake missionary, a branch mission leader, and had helped in the elder’s quorum presidency, the primary, the scouting program, and many other ward and stake positions, I came to know God through study and service, I knew that He is and ever strived to live his commandments. Knowing this about God also shed light on my earthly purpose and the need to define who I was while I was here. I had to trust the Atonement each time I failed. Failures that came in unfulfilled attempts to make a friend or feel love without some sort of sexual expectation in return. For example at one time there was a man in my place of employment, a church member, well respected and an authority figure at work. He invited me to go out one summer evening to check out the mountains and local scenery. I thought sure, that would be cool. We went up the mountainside and stopped at an overlook. It was dark, but nice out. He reached over took my hand, and then kissed me. I was shocked and excited at the same time. I was confused by the situation and immediately considered my preparations for a mission. We went back to his cabin, once there I learned more of his intentions. I had a great desire to serve a mission and knew that the situation was leading me to a place that would compromise my ability to go. I told him I wasn’t interested in going further, turned and left. Still I was deeply upset by the experience and resolved to repent of my thoughts and actions immediately.
During my life I have failed many times. I have been so discouraged and sought love in many places and in inappropriate ways at times. I have needed the power of the Atonement in my life and exercised the gift of repentance unto forgiveness. Through the confirmation of the Spirit of the Holy Ghost I have felt my Savior’s love. I have suffered through church discipline for understanding and for help to get to where I know that God loves me and that He has more for me than what I can possibly imagine.
There is much discussion as to whether or not a man is born gay, whether or not he can change, and whether or not he is destined to be a certain way. It is just that, discussion, speculation, theory and hypotheses. I believe the Lord’s gospel and the plan of salvation answer these and other questions. I believe every burden is a blessing. I believe that no matter what tendencies, attractions or addictions we feel or experience, that we can overcome them with God. God is a God of miracles. God does not lie. Through him all things are possible (see Luke 1:37). I hope and pray that we may have that desire, and have a strong drive to overcome those powerful urges. Above all I believe we have our agency to choose as we will. In Romans, Paul exhorts us “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). To me that means we rise each time we fall and take the hand of God and let the grace of his love carry us when we can no longer carry ourselves. I feel it. I know it. I have experienced it. Though I may live until my dying breath with the desire to be loved by a man, as a man, God will not cease to be God and His truths will not change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever and has given us life that we might find joy, and agency that we might know joy in its fullness through Him. This is my hope and my prayer. For it is not good to feel worthless, despised, rejected, mocked or ridiculed, such thoughts are not the disposition of God, nor that of true brotherhood. May we all come to understand true brotherhood is possible without sex between men. Intimacy is possible between men without sex. The desire for intimacy does not make someone gay.
Sexual experiences of exploitation or abuse are not the sole composite of an identity. Sexuality is only one part of a person and not the entire sum. Regardless of the pathway in life and the context of our experience, we choose how we react to those influences. Sometimes we are driven beyond reason by the depths of our emotion to act on our feelings but there is always a time that follows by calm. It is that quiet where I ponder the effects of my experiences where I can re-evaluate what happens and how I will let the experience I have influence me. Here is the point of power. It is in this quiet that I learned to acknowledge my own feelings, accept responsibility for my thoughts, emotions and actions and choose the path I wanted to take. It is no longer about abuse I suffered, confusion I felt, desires I had, but what I want to do with those feelings, thoughts and experiences. Here is where I find the peace of God, the strength to change and the courage to accept the control I could exert one choice at a time. Life is not a one time experience but a series of experiences one at a time that creates awareness. All that we come to know builds our own ability to learn wisdom, apply principle and build faith. It is not easy to define and re-define ourselves through our lives, or to look beyond the labels and the limits that we engender in order to find hope for something better, but it is possible. I have found peace with the man within and have become whole through Christ.
CASTLES AND RAINBOWS
By John B. Grover
Paint me a rainbow under the sky
Build from my castle a stone wall to rely
As a fortress from evil to be safe from with in
From all but myself my secret of sin
Carnal and sensual the natural man
Must be denied to be part of God’s great plan
For only those who commit His will to live
Can receive what He has and is willing to give
More than man can imagine His promise foretell
Deeper than wishes from a true wishes well
All of the riches more than silver and gold
Worlds without number the scriptures have told
But sadly the thing that holds most of us back
Besides the faith and the trust in God we may lack
Is man himself as he takes over his soul
By choice after choice showing lack of control
By appetite, desire, impulse gratification
Lose a once Godly life by self-satisfaction
Too hardened to acknowledge too proud to admit
Pushes him forward instead of to submit
Help from God – trust in His Love
How can it be so my Father above
Such mercy, such grace to all men extended
Can bring peace to me my torment now ended
Forgive me Dear Lord Thy mercy divine
Stills my heart, the glory be Thine
As a child again I return unto Thee
Forsaking all others, Yours I must be
For now I believe I was bought with a price
The best blood of all was spilt for my life
As Christ suffered to bleed in Gethsemane
Then more suffering till death at Calvary
How much longer will I wait and withstand
All that is offered by His loving hand
Until I will join my hand daily in His
And walk in the knowledge that He yet lives
He is my Savior, Redeemer, my Brother and Friend
To Him I entrust, to Him I commend
No more than my will is mine to be given
Yet in losing to Him my heart will gain Heaven
Please take of me Lord, this wreck of a man
To do as Thou wilt in all that ye can
Accept from my heart all that is of me
And seal me Thine for eternity.